The departure of Mark Richt at Georgia leaves some massive shoes to fill. While Kirby Smart is a talented and innovative assistant, I’m not sure he is the right choice for a top-tier program like Georgia’s. UGA needs to nail this hire—the new coach needs to have experience in a top level program and needs to have a proven track record.
Why on earth would UGA hire a coach with no experience as the leader of a team?
If history has shown us anything, it’s that assistants don’t traditionally excel in head coaching positions. For example, Alabama hired Mike Shula as head coach in 2003. By 2006, the mighty Crimson Tide looked more like the Crimson wavelet. The team finished the season with a 6-7 record. Shula was fired and Nick Saban brought on. Suffice it to say that during his second year at Alabama, Saban led his team from a subpar to a perfect 12–0 regular season record. The following year the Tide won a national title.
University of Florida made the egregious error of hiring an assistant twice. When Steve Spurrier coached the Gators, they had an average of 10 wins per season and generally finished in the top 10. The following year, UF hired Ron Zook. In his three years at Florida, the Gators never had more than eight wins in a season. In 2010, Florida hired Will Muschamp who was an unmitigated disaster — in 2013 the Gators finished the season 4-8. This was their first losing season since 1979.
Taking a chance on an untried coach is a mistake.
A team of Georgia’s caliber doesn’t need to experiment or rebuild. They have a fertile recruiting ground, excellent facilities and scads of booster and alumni money. UGA is one of the finest football programs in the country; the new coach should reflect that, or there will be some nasty repercussions. Replacing Richt was never going to be an easy or an enviable task. He is beloved by both his current and his former players. If the new coach cannot win the players’ loyalty the program will be in serious trouble. In addition, the school has not had any academic sanctions or legal troubles under Richt. Georgia needs to find a coach who will build upon its tradition of excellence. Hiring an assistant, no matter how talented, is a crap shoot — and it’s one that the Georgia program cannot afford.